It’s hard to fully describe how it feels to be a Manchester United fan at this time. To criticise our style of play under our one time genius of a coach (maybe in the 90s Ed, not now) leads to accusations from other fans of being spoilt, of being unable to come to terms with not winning trophies every season since our erstwhile leader decided to retire after 20 plus years of either winning or challenging for trophies every season.
However what these fans need to realise is that it is not because we no longer look like winning trophies, nor is it that we expect to win something every season; it is the abject play and complete and utter refusal to look like a team capable of playing attractive football.
In the 80s when I started to watch us, we won a grand total of two FA Cups. We were knocked out of domestic cup competitions by lower league teams i.e. Bournemouth and watched as the two Merseyside giants took turns to win the league most years. However, we attacked. We had players like Whiteside, Hughes and a captain in Bryan Robson who remains the best central midfielder I have ever seen in a Man United shirt, driving us forward, never accepting defeat nor mediocrity.
As a 13 year old boy I was giddy with excitement telling my school mates that I was there the night that McClair scored against Luton in April 1988 to become the first United player to score 20 league goals in a season since George Best. His strike partner that evening was Peter Davenport (pictured) playing on a cabbage field of a pitch watched by less than 40,000 fans. Did it matter to me? Not a jot. I was in K Stand with my Dad mesmerised by the action on the pitch.
Fast forward nearly 30 years and if I am totally honest I am glad I have an excuse not to go to the match most weeks. I work shifts, my wife does and we have two young boys therefore weekends when we are both off are scarce and the opportunities to go to matches become less. I also use up my goodwill with grandparents who look after my boys in the summer season when I go to watch my other sporting love – St Helens rugby league – home and away. The ease of obtaining tickets, games on a Friday night and watching in a t-shirt having a pint during the game makes choosing between both sports a no brainer at this time.
On Saturday, I felt sorry for those who had shelled out £40 in the torrential rain (when did we last play on a Saturday in any other conditions?) and watched what took place on the pitch. It was without doubt one of our worst displays that I can remember, irrespective of the final result. To have so little shots with so much possession defies belief. This against a team 47 places below us in league standings and who offered so little.
I won’t go into the possession football and our style of play as everyone knows the ethos of Louis van Gaal. In his defence, we have performed well in the big games bar a capitulation at Arsenal in the first 20 minutes this season. There is clearly a time and a place to play such football. Liverpool away last season was an example of it working well.
However when we regularly play two defensive midfielders at home to smaller teams and shove our best attacking outlet onto the wing then it says a great deal of our attacking threat and that we set out not to lose rather than to go all out for a win.
It’s scarcely comparable to Fergie who a few years ago went for it against City at home, 3-1 down and with 10 men. Yes City scored a further three goals, but you get no points for a loss no matter what the score.
The club since David Gill left barely resembles that of a professional outfit. Whilst Ed Woodward is clearly a very astute businessman and clinches sponsorship deals from Pot Noodle suppliers to world record shirt deals, a football man he is not. We are crying out for a Director of Football, to oversee recruitment and a succession plan in relation to our next manager and beyond.
If it is indeed true that we are stepping aside to leave City a clear run at appointing Guardiola, then heads must roll. Here is one of the world’s best managers available and according to those that know him well, has United as his first choice. We brief the media that we are a huge football club, that we can compete on a par with Barcelona, Real Madrid and Bayern Munich off the pitch and yet are allowing our rivals to obtain his signature without putting up a fight.
This is the same City who are now not only a noisy neighbour but one that has been issued an ASBO for persistent noise nuisance. This is the City whose youth teams are dominating the lower age groups and who have invested significantly in youth development whist we take turns to play our home games at Bury, Leigh and Altrincham.
Given their financial power and their business savvy owners circumnavigating financial fair play rules with stadium sponsorship deals amongst others, then with Guardiola on board, it is not hard to predict the future.
Our two biggest rivals may start next season with Klopp and Guardiola as managers whilst we may have Giggs. The same Giggs that was assistant manager under Moyes and now a second season of mediocrity under Van Gaal. Just what does he bring to the table?
As for me, even with all things considered, my absence from matches will still only be temporary. Once this club is in you, it stays. It won’t be long before my boys are old enough and I am taking them, watching their faces as they enter the stadium for the first time and the sheer unbridled joy on their faces, as a result.
Indeed one day they may be able to tell their grandchildren they were there when we scored a goal before half time.